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Washington Launch

Policy Pathways Toward Improved Governance of a Warming Arctic

21 April 2009, Washington

About this event

The German Marshall Fund of the United States and Ecologic Institute hosted a seminar on transatlantic issues surrounding the governance of the Arctic on 21 April 2009 in Washington DC. Speakers from government and academia outlined the geopolitical context in the Arctic and opportunities for cooperation on issues such as environmental security and ecosystem-based management.

GMF website of the event including audio podcasts

Climate change is occurring more rapidly in the Arctic than in any other region of the world, with sea ice retreating at a pace exceeding even the most dramatic predictions of scientists. Access to newly opened waters is creating new economic opportunities for the fishing, energy, shipping, and tourism industries, which are expected to expand in both scope and intensity. The increased activity in the Arctic marine area will require effective policies and international cooperation if the world hopes to protect fragile Arctic ecosystems and safeguard the rights and interests of indigenous peoples. According to most Arctic experts, the current governance framework is inadequate and must be strengthened to handle the new and uncertain changes underway in the region.

There was general agreement from government representatives US Ambassador David Balton and Norwegian Embassy Deputy Chief of Mission Aud Kolberg that the existing legal framework in the Arctic is sufficient, and that the Arctic Council is the appropriate fora to prevent conflict and develop strategies for the region. However, both also stated that new rules and policies may be needed to address emerging issues related to i.a. shipping, fisheries, tourism and search and rescue.

Following the government panel discussion, Ecologic Senior Fellow, Aaron Best, presented the findings from the European Commission-funded Arctic TRANSFORM project. He emphasized the importance of identifying possible policy pathways to improved Arctic governance. This approach encourages flexibility, rather than zeroing in on policy options that tend to be too binary. The academic panel then highlighted key aspects of the current Arctic governance debate. Caitlyn Antrim, Executive Director of the Rule of Law Committee for the Oceans underscored the need to develop a shared vision for Arctic policy and discussed Russia’s changing geopolitical position resulting from its melting maritime border. Kenneth Yalowitz, Director of the Dickey Center of International Understanding at Dartmouth College, argued that the global economic crisis allows “breathing room” to develop sound policies and increase coordination and co-operation in the Arctic. A key first step is to develop a permanent secretariat for the Arctic Council. Paul Berkman, Director of the Arctic Ocean Geopolitics Programme at the University of Cambridge, suggested that the process for co-operation and decision-making in the Antarctic could serve as a model for the Arctic. He argued that the Antarctic Treaty itself should be separated from the process that nations have gone through to develop the treaty, and suggested that lessons from Antarctic would not preclude military presence in the Arctic.

There was agreement among speakers that because natural resources are primarily located within national EEZs (exclusive economic zones), a key challenge is to balance national sovereignty with international interests. National policies will play a large role in protecting the shared environment.

For background documents, please visit the Arctic TRANSFORM website.


This event is co-sponsored by the German Marshall Fund of the United States and the
Ecologic Institute, Berlin - Brussels - Vienna - Washington DC

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